Lamar Jackson Not in Top 5 in ESPN's Quarterback Rankings
One would think Lamar Jackson silenced his doubters for good with his remarkable, record-breaking season last year, but that's not the case.
Despite being named the second unanimous MVP in NFL history in 2019, Jackson didn't even place in the top five in ESPN’s rankings of the top 10 quarterbacks heading into this season. Jackson came in at No. 6.
The objective of the rankings was to identify the best quarterbacks right now. It was "not a five-year projection or an achievement award." To determine the rankings, ESPN got input from more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players.
The quarterbacks who placed ahead of Jackson were Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Drew Brees. Not to take anything away from any of them, but it's worth noting that Jackson outplayed both Wilson and Watson in head-to-head meetings last season.
Jackson's highest ranking among the panelists was No. 2, with his lowest being No. 12. It's mind-boggling that someone actually believes there are 11 quarterbacks better than Jackson, who led the league in touchdown passes last year, set a rushing record for a quarterback and is 19-3 as a starter in the regular season.
"Some passing purists have a tough time putting Jackson too high, despite his No. 2 ranking in QBR (77.5) inside the pocket, and throwing 11 touchdowns under pressure," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "They believe, despite playmaking perhaps never seen before and improving accuracy, that the Ravens' offense built around his skill set masks a passer who is good but not great."
One AFC executive said of Jackson: "He is who he is – always a threat, but as more teams figure out Baltimore's offense, they won't be as caught off guard. He'll eventually make plays with his arm, but he's not a guy you'd have a lot of confidence in doing it consistently."
Attempting to diminish Jackson's accomplishments because the offense was tailored to him doesn't pass muster. Shouldn't every team play to their quarterback's skill set? Moreover, the quarterback position is evolving, and dual threats such as Jackson are leading the way.
An NFC executive said "the figure-Baltimore-out argument is cute – until Jackson runs through your gap assignment."
"Defenses thought they were ready for him last year and he bludgeoned them," an AFC executive said. "He's doing things at a crazy elite level that no one has seen. They do such a good job with him, and he still wakes up a better athlete than 99% of the league."
While Jackson's fans are likely miffed about him not being ranked in the top five, they can take solace in knowing that Jackson is fueled by proving his critics wrong and has vowed to "keep a chip on my shoulder."
Projecting Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Ravens' Record in 2020
Pro Football Focus used recent season simulations to project the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team in 2020. Not surprisingly, the Ravens figure to be one of the elite teams in the league.
In the 90th-percentile outcome for the Ravens, they finish 13-3. To achieve that, "NFL defenses are still unable to handle Baltimore's unique offense, and the Ravens' defense emerges as the best in the NFL," PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote.
"There's no reason the second part of that statement can't be true," Linsey added. "Their secondary is loaded with talent, and it's a group that returns Tavon Young from injury to man the slot. They significantly bolstered the defensive line and linebacking corps, as well, with the additions of Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, among others. A team doesn't get to 13-3 without offense and defense working in tandem, and Baltimore looks to be in a good position to have that be the case."
On the other end of the spectrum, an 8-8 finish is the Ravens' 10th-percentile outcome. So what went wrong in that scenario?
"The Ravens find themselves playing from behind more often than they did in 2019," Linsey wrote. "They were the only team in the NFL to play fewer than 250 offensive snaps when trailing last season, and Lamar Jackson's splits were noticeable when he was forced to play from behind. When playing with the lead or when tied, Jackson posted a 92.1 PFF grade. When trailing, that figure dropped to 68.2.
"His ability to play from behind — when the advantages of unpredictability in the run and pass game start to dwindle — remains the biggest question mark for the reigning league MVP heading into his third season. This 8-8 record also comes in part thanks to the loss of Marshal Yanda inside, who is surely on his way to Canton."
Here are PFF's best- and worst-case scenarios for the other AFC North teams: Cleveland Browns (11-5, 6-10); Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6, 5-11); Cincinnati Bengals (9-7, 4-12).
Earl Thomas III, Chuck Clark Are Primed to Build Off Last Year's Success
Two players on defense not mentioned in the PFF article are safeties Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark, who are key members of the "loaded" secondary. NBC Sports Washington’s Andrew Gillis believes Thomas and Clark are primed to build off their success of last season.
Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro during his nine seasons in Seattle and one in Baltimore, now has a year of experience playing in Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's scheme, while Clark will likely be able to revert to playing a more traditional role in the secondary after often being pressed into action as a middle linebacker last year, Gillis wrote.
"Thomas' first year in Baltimore went well, considering that he played his first football in over a year after breaking his leg in his last year in Seattle," Gillis wrote. " … Martindale used Thomas all over the field, a role he didn't play in Seattle. Now in his second year with Clark, the duo should help create more turnovers than it did a year ago — even if Clark and Thomas aren't the recipients of those interceptions."
Thomas allowed just 87 receiving yards in primary coverage last year, according to PFF, and his 86.1 coverage grade marked his seventh straight season at 80.0 or higher.
Clark stepped up big time last year after starting safety Tony Jefferson went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. He assumed the defensive communication helmet and helped the defense thrive after some early season struggles. Clark was rewarded with a three-year contract extension this offseason.
Marquise Brown's Bulked-Up Physique Catches Jerry Jeudy's Attention
Marquise "Hollywood" Brown has been turning heads this offseason with videos of his insane workouts and new, heavily muscled physique.
Among those who have taken notice is Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver and fellow first-round pick Jerry Jeudy.
Jeudy, the 15th-overall selection in this year's draft, has gotten an up-close look at Brown's training regimen, as the two have been working out together this offseason.